Blog Post

Real Life Poetry Top Ten

Leonora Carrington, Illeidos (ships engendered from metallic seeds)(1965).

Copyright Estate of Leonora Carrington /ARS. (reproduced on facebook, on the Leonora Carrington artist page)


Real Life Poetry Top Ten, April 15, 2014



F320 (“There’s a certain Slant of light”) was always my favorite Dickinson poem—and I told my father that—later I memorized it and I love reciting it—when I was a kid my father told me that Dickinson was choosing (or not choosing) between the weight of cathedral tunes and the heft of cathedral tunes—my father felt that heft was better—it is more physical, tangier, stranger—I agree with him (heft sounds like magic, like prophecy, like the Norns), but I also love the pun in wait—wait, wait, wait to die—the ending—the distance on the look of death—used to be sublime for me—then I saw my father's face just seconds after his soul left his body—



David Shapiro, poetry workshop, the Cooper Union, 1986 or 1987.  Class begins.  Shapiro places an apple on the table.  He says, Write about this apple—pause—without contempt.



Gertrude Stein reading “If I Told Him: A Completed Portrait of Picasso,” youtube

Stein's graceful voice—surprisingly relaxed—full of exactitude—full of identities and the procreant urge to escape from identities that might stifle life—full of life and identities and exactitude and human connection (what Creeley called particulars).



Leonora Carrington, Illeidos (ships engendered from metallic seeds) (1965).

Part of what surrealism should mean is what this painting—scratched, distant, intimate, aware of every dream and the undervoice of dreams and the real strangeness of dreams, the last dreams, the dreams of death—should mean to a fifteen year old walking in a snowy park at twilight anywhere in the Midwest—



Hoa Nguyen

imagine this inside

Hoa Nguyen’s poems are necessary and magic—and devastation arrives, is uncovered:


Face the never-stumble

    for throwing yourself so


sprightly    What can’t stay

late in the month:



dolphin fetuses      not birds

washing up in numbers


imagine this inside

So which way of happening (Auden: a way of happening, a mouth) is it—prophecy—prophetic poetics destroying and renewing (us in) social spaces—the day and night and news as ecopoetics—these poems embody our private spaces as public spaces (social space, emerging).  Creeley: speech is a mouth.  Nguyen breathes and thinks and changes through the mouth of speech, the way of happening.  Her poems veer, drop, and fly.  It’s wonderful.  Grand and amazingly precise:




Toilet seat slam     so what

if I’m an orchid killer


Seeds and eyeholes


Poured the last of the cheap wine

Written upside down (again)


Think about the tow of

It     The possibility

     or awful

dust then rain on Haiti


“Like war destructions,” my mother

said     A wormhole in the good squash


The rocks don’t match at all


She doesn’t need to say “daily life” or “consciousness” or “first-world problems” or “imperialism” or “globalization”—she says the words inside the words she says—and the awareness in these poems enacts self (selves) in process—not the school of quietude’s fixed and stable self. 



Joshua Clover / Al Young

Joshua Clover, at a (my) poetry reading, 2007: “What makes you think democracy would be a good thing?”  Al Young, at coffee, 2010: “If you’re part of a true democracy, you’re part of something spiritual.”



Greil Marcus, Real Life Rock Top Ten, January 6, 2003:

10) Helen Thomas at White House press briefing, Jan. 6

“In his 1972 study ‘The World Turned Upside Down: Radical Ideas During the English Revolution,’ Christopher Hill, poring through the annals of the 16th and 17th centuries, tried to reconstruct the beginnings of a heresy that by the 1650s was making itself known across England. There would be a document noting that a certain craftsperson had questioned the divinity of Jesus; 20 years later there would be a record of a woman denying the need to work. Across a page or so, a dozen examples of seemingly stray people claiming that all true spirits were god and that all authority was false took on a huge charge, less from the power of any given fragment than from one’s sense of how much was missing between the fragments. Reading the transcript of the exchange between 82-year-old Hearst News Services columnist Helen Thomas and White House spokesman Ari Fleischer, what was so shocking was not what she said, but, given the socialization produced by the news writing and even editorial writing in the likes of the New York Times, how bizarre it seemed — because in the context of contemporary political discourse Thomas spoke not as a reporter but precisely as a heretic . . .



Giorgio Agamben, The End of the Poem

Agamben derives an idea of dictation directly from “In the beginning was the word”—Language dwelling in beginning—Amor—is devotion—images are connected to this dictation, this language made actual


Agamben: The End of the Poem--p. 79--"Amor is the name given by the troubadours to this experience of the dwelling of speech in the beginning . . ."


Whitman (in a Post-Petrarchan tradition) enacts or embodies origin . . .


Richard Sieburth, writing about The Spirit of Romance, compares it to The Cantos: Both books attempt to articulate a pattern, at once historical and atemporal, of cultural beginnings and rebeginnings.  Sieburth adds: Subscribing to the early German Romantics´ estimation of the Middle Ages as the decisive inauguration of modernity in European literature, The Spirit of Romance marks Pound´s first sustained archaeological excavation of the Tradition of the New.


I don´t want to be rhapsodic about Pound—or about Arnaut Daniel—


But-I like what Agamben says about Amor as the beginning-One is changed, I am changed, I am born, re-born, etc.  It´s like the experience of beginning described by Althusser, (the subject is created by power and the relation is like that of a police officer who hails a pedestrian)


 but, well, better . . .


In Arnaut there is a tremendous combination of image and thought (voice) (Dante has that of course)


This connection between image and language beginning (voice) is extremely important for Whitman and Pound


Agamben says the Troubadours experience the creation of the world in the experience of language and experience as the creation of love and knowledge and a unity between voice and life


What lies at the foundations of poetry and constitutes what the poets call its dictation is neither a biographical nor a linguistic event


It is a zone of indifference between lived experience and what is made


An experience of speech as an inexhaustible experience of love


Which locates the very event of language

as original topos


which takes place in an absolute proximity of love, speech, and knowledge



You forgot to see the end of the world:

capital, capital, surplus rain and snow:

capital refuses, capital eats your face (“I

would prefer not to”)—

Start over,




Thoreau: Workers have “not leisure for a true integrity day by day." Has anyone in America leisure for a true integrity? Thoreau: we have “no time to be anything but a machine." We locate this problem inside: we are machines, we are blind, we have no true integrity. Or even worse: we have true integrity and we poison it. One story: the only way to be honest is to be haunted. The haunted person recognizes that s/he is cursed, recognizes that s/he has done something terrible, even if s/he can’t admit s/he knows what the crime might be.


Joseph Lease's critically acclaimed books of poetry include Testify (Coffee House Press, 2011) and Broken World (Coffee House Press, 2007). Lease’s poems "'Broken World' (For James Assatly)" and "Send My Roots Rain" have been selected for Postmodern American Poetry: A Norton Anthology (Second Edition). "'Broken World' (For James Assatly)" was also selected for The Best American Poetry 2002. The Academy of American Poets anthologized Lease’s poem “True Faith” on, and e-mailed the poem to 70,000 subscribers. Lease’s poem “Free Again (Why don’t people)” was published in The New York Times. Lease has received The Academy of American Poets Prize and grants and awards in poetry and poetics from Columbia University, Harvard University, Brown University, and California College of the Arts. He is a Professor of Writing and Literature at California College of the Arts and a member of the Advisory Board of the Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics.